A Dozen Beasts Slouching: Long View of a Dark Age

Written by Chris Floyd 13 June 2011 6005 Hits

I wrote the lines below more than 25 years ago; but when I finally got around to putting them to music some months ago, what had seemed allusive and metaphorical – both the public overview and the personal intimations of mortality – had become all too real. It’s like the passage toward the end of Doctor Zhivago, when two survivors of revolution, famine, purge, camps and war are looking back:

“This has happened several times in the course of history. A thing which had been conceived in a lofty, ideal manner becomes coarse and material. Thus Rome came out of Greece and the Russian Revolution came out of the Russian enlightenment. Take that line of Blok’s: ‘We, the children of Russia’s terrible years.’ You can see the difference of period at once. In his time, when he said it, he meant it figuratively, metaphorically. The children were not children, but the sons, the heirs of the intelligentsia, and the terrors were not terrible but apocalyptic; that’s quite different. Now the figurative has become literal, the children are children and the terrors are terrible. There you have the difference.”

Anyway, those rough beasts once dimly perceived have not only come slouching, they’ve now emerged full-blown, ravenous and vivid. So when I ran across this sketch again while searching for something else, I thought it might be worth a brief re-visiting.

Standing in the Morning by Chris Floyd

Have them play Shostakovich at my funeral:
Something grim, unnerving, hard to hum.
But make sure that you're laughing in the background;
Be glad that I am quit of what's to come.

For the destruction of the world is never-ending;
And just as tirelessly, creation rears.
This dark age is but an hour for apprehending
The trace left by a cold sweat-drop of fear.

A dozen beasts come slouching, a hundred prophets rise –
The timewheel, like a winepress, brings them forth.
The next two thousand years are here in incubation:
We are the forefathers, the ancient of the earth.

But I myself am standing in the morning of non-being,
Which has worn its way through me at last.
I'm taut with wild yielding to the mighty yawning
That swallows up the waters of the past.

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Visible Means of Support: Backing Brutality in Bahrain

Written by Chris Floyd 12 June 2011 9483 Hits

Last week, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate met with the crown prince of Bahrain and "reaffirmed" the United States' "strong commitment" to the regime of unelected autocrats. The Peace Laureate -- who in his acceptance of the Prize wrapped himself in the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi -- also "expressed strong support" for the regime's "ongoing efforts to initiate national dialogue ... [and] forge a just future for all Bahrainis."

President Obama had dropped in a meeting the prince was having with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who likewise extolled the autocrats for their "national dialogue" and "important work."

There is indeed "important work" going on in Bahrain these days, and the autocratic regime's "ongoing efforts to initiate dialogue" -- the campaign lauded by the Laureate -- are quite vigorous. Here, for example, The Independent details a case study of just how the crown prince and his family's regime is pursuing "national dialogue" in the manner so warmly approved by the presidential peacenik:

Bahraini security forces beat the detained poet Ayat al-Gormezi across the face with electric cable and forced her to clean with her bare hands lavatories just used by police, members of her family said yesterday in a graphic account of the torture and humiliation suffered by those rounded up in the Gulf nation's crackdown on dissent.

The 20-year-old trainee teacher, who spent nine days in a tiny cell with the air conditioning turned to freezing, is due back in court this weekend on charges of inciting hatred, insulting the king and illegal assembly, and her family fear she may suffer further mistreatment in custody amid threats of another round of interrogation.

Masked police arrested Ayat at her home on 30 March for reciting a poem criticising the monarchy during a pro-democracy rally in the capital Manama in February. ... The details of her interrogation and imprisonment are similar to the experiences of other women detained by Bahraini security forces since they launched a full scale repression on 15 March against all those demanding democratic reform in the island kingdom.

Ayat gave herself up to police after they threatened to kill her brothers. She was taken away in a car with two security officials – a man and a woman – both of whom were masked and dressed in civilian clothes. They immediately started to beat her and threaten her, saying she would be raped and sexually assaulted with degrading photographs of her put on the internet.

... While Ayat was meeting her family during the arraignment, a policeman overheard her giving details of her mistreatment. He said that if she continued to do so, she would be returned to the interrogation centre and tortured again.

This is what the regime of the honored and lauded crown prince is doing to those who dare to state publicly their desire to have a democratic government. This is the "national dialogue" which last week was given a highly public imprimatur of approval from the administration of the Nobel Peace Laureate.

One wonders sometimes how his head can bear up under those laurels, caked and heavy as they are with dried blood, clots of viscera and vast heavings of hypocrisy.

Of course, the treatment being meted out to 20-year-old unarmed poets by the Obama-lauded, Clinton-approved Bahraini regime is just the tip of the iceberg. The repression is deep, brutal, violent -- and backed up by military forces from that other highly approved autocracy in the region: Saudi Arabia. (Where Hillary Clinton would be put in jail if she dared to drive a car.)

As usual, you can find more on Bahrain -- including direct reports from the ground and copious links to media sources (such as that radical journal, The Economist) -- at the site of As'ad AbuKhalil, the "Angry Arab." He keeps a sharp and scornful eye on the crimes and follies committed on all the sinister operators -- imperial meddlers, local thugs, unctuous collaborationists, repressive sectarians -- in the region. For example, here's a recent post:

Bahraini comrades sent me this:  "As you may know the oppressors in Bahrain are targeting professional women arresting from their places of work or study. Many have disappeared into military style prisons and have not had access to lawyers or their families. The few who have been released report sexual attacks, verbal and physical insults and threats and other forms of torture. I attach for your attention a spreadsheet with the names of only 55 of these detainess. You will note that one of those arrested is a pregnant woman who happens to be the wife of an activist.  Many others are young women in their early 20's. One of these young ladies is a poet and a student teacher who was arrested after 4 of her brothers were threatened at gunpoint to turn their sister in.  No other Arabic regime has used torture and arrest against women to crush protests in this systematic and brutal manner. Yet media outlets in the west and Aljazeera Arabic are largely silent on these abuses in stark and shameful contrast to the coverage given to other protests."

And this:

Jane sent me this (I cite with her permission):  "I guess you saw the news that four men have been sentenced to death today by a military court that convicted them of killing two policemen during the uprising. Today Bahrain TV aired a "documentary" that gives full details, including televised "confessions" from several of the men. ..."

As some people have asked, why would defendants who were pleading "not guilty" make confessions on camera? The names of those confessing aren't given, but Chanad, an eagle-eyed blogger/tweep, pointed out that the first man "confessing" (six minutes into the programme) appears to be Ali Isa Saqer. Mr Saqer was one of the people detained in connection with the killings, but he was not sentenced yesterday. That's because he already died in custody in early April. Human Rights Watch, which saw his body, said it bore signs of "horrific abuse". He was buried on April 10th.

Frank Gardner of the BBC wrote about him recently ....:

"Accused of trying to run over a policeman during a protest, Ali Isa al-Saqer had handed himself over to police after his family say they were threatened. Six days later he died in their custody, the authorities say he fought his jailers. His family, seeing his battered body for the first time since his arrest, collapsed in howls of grief; his wounds were quite simply horrific.

Beaten black and blue, his lacerated back resembled a bloody zebra; he appeared to have been whipped with heavy cables, his ankles and wrists manacled.

I brought up his case with the health minister, Dr Fatima al-Beloushi, who is also minister for human rights. At first she said that the opposition had altered the images to invent the lacerations. But when I replied that we had been to the funeral and seen them ourselves she immediately promised a full investigation."

Beaten black and blue. Whipped with heavy cables. Battered to death. By agents of powers approved and backed and armed and trained by Washington -- powers, which, like their Potomac mentors, simply lie about their crimes -- or blame the victims themselves.

Again, I say what I have said here over and over (and will keep on saying): This is what you are supporting, enabling and continuing when you support the Obama Administration. Whether that support is wholehearted -- if you, like Kevin Drum, proudly shut down you own brain and defer supinely to Obama's superior wisdom -- or whether it is reluctant, defensive, "to keep the other guys out" because you desperately hope the Democrats might possibly be marginally better, the results are still the same: murder, brutality, violence, corruption, chaos and suffering.

If that's what you want to support -- if you feel for whatever reason that this is the best, most honorable, moral, productive course to take -- then that's your right, of course. But be aware of what that choice really means -- in actual lives of real human beings, right now, at this minute, and far into the future. Don't pretend that you don't know; don't pretend that you aren't saying, "I will pull the trigger and kill this little child to make the world a better place."

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The Impossible Distance: A Choice to Kill

Written by Chris Floyd 06 June 2011 9878 Hits

I watched them marching toward the border. Row upon row of them in the hot, bright sun. They marched without guns, without tanks and missiles -- although some, like the shepherd boy David, did pick up a few rocks to hurl into the impossible distance.

I watched them stream down the green hill toward the heaps of dirt and wire. I saw them, old and young, walk toward the occupied land. I saw them come closer -- close enough for the heavily-armed occupying force to have them in range.

From a distance -- behind the barbed wire, with the occupiers, where the cameras that showed the scene were set -- I heard the dull pops and parps of the guns as they fired. I saw the marchers kept streaming down the hill, although the first wave was now breaking in disarray. I heard the guns again. I saw some marchers fall, others scramble back, and still more coming down.

Pop. Pop. Parp. The dull sounds, intermittent, careful. The bullets whizzed across the distance -- the impossible distance, which no stone could traverse. The bullets threw up clouds of dirt, they struck flesh. I saw bodies twisting and going down. The march became a rescue party. The dead and wounded were lifted onto sheets and stretchers as the bullets kept coming: dull, intermittent, careful. Pop. Pop. Parp.

Finally, as many lay dead, many lay bleeding in bright, hot sun, finally, across the distance, from behind the barbed wire and hot-barrelled weapons, I watched the canisters of tear gas sailing through the air, trailing streams of smoke. They landed on the dirt and the green grass, and spewed their painful, irresistible fog.

Now, at last, the marchers -- who had kept coming in the face of the bullets -- turned and fled. Carrying the dead, the dying and bleeding, they ran back up the green hill.

Then suddenly the scene shifted to an anonymous government office, where a comely young spokeswoman, speaking crisp, American-accented English, explained that these unweaponed marchers walking in the hot, bright sun posed such an overwhelming threat to the heavily-armed occupying forces behind the walls of barbed wire that there was no alternative, no other choice, but to open fire across the impossible distance that no stone could traverse, to fire into the unarmed crowd, to fire again and again, to watch them twist and fall into the mounds of dirt. No choice. No alternative.

Her appearance on the screen lasted almost as long as the time given to the marchers and their dead. The reporter, who was standing near the border, behind the barbed wire, who had seen it all with his own eyes, dutifully concluded his piece with geopolitical context -- one side says this, the other says that, plots and machinations lie behind every public outpouring. But even given all that, even he -- speaking as the marchers were fleeing from the noxious clouds behind him -- even he could not avoid the obvious question: Why use the tear gas last? Why shoot first? Why fire into the bodies, into the unarmed marchers, and kill them, when all along you were equipped with the proven means to disperse them without death and blood?

It seems, then, there was a choice for the occupying force. And they made the that choice. The choice to kill, to speak with death and blood across the impossible distance.

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For This Relief, Much Thanks

Written by Chris Floyd 05 June 2011 5782 Hits


Just a quick note to say that I am overwhelmed by the support shown for Empire Burlesque after the recent pitch for donations. It was completely unexpected; I had no idea there was such feeling for the website out there. I just want everyone who gave to know how very much their gift is appreciated, however large or small. Words fail me on this, really. Thank you again.

Now I'll have to get to work and try to write some posts worthy of such an outpouring!

UPDATE: I also wanted to note that due to security measures to ward off hack attacks, most comments have to be approved by hand now, instead of going up automatically. I try to keep on top of it, but it can back up at times, especially if I'm away. So if you post a comment and don't see it for awhile, that's why. My apologies for any inconvenience.

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Money, Murder, and the Madness of Empire

Written by Chris Floyd 03 June 2011 5961 Hits

As always, I hate to do this, but I just wanted to put out a brief call for donations, if anyone feels moved to pitch a few coins into the hat. Regular financial support for this site has dwindled down to almost nothing; there is now only one regular subscriber, where once there had been dozens. (Was it something I said?) People do chip in from time to time, and I'm enormously grateful for that. And of course, times are hard all over, and there are needs far greater than mine. (Arthur Silber, for one; don't you dast give anything here without giving there first.) Still, the income once generated by my political writings has essentially disappeared, and one does feel that gap every now and then.

So if you've got a few pennies, and you've taken care of your own needs and those of others in more need, and you take a notion, we would be mighty grateful and much beholden for anything you might toss this way.

Meanwhile, pressing personal business of various sorts have kept me preoccupied of late. So in lieu of my own deathless take on various issues of the day, please take a gander at a few of these important articles which have appeared in the last few days.

War Against Humanity, Part 1
A new drive has been launched to end the so-called "War on Drugs." A whole raft of Establishment worthies -- conveniently out of power now, alas -- have signed their names to a new call to end what is probably the most pernicious, corrupting, and corrosively evil movement of our time. The "War on Drugs" has doubtless done more to degrade human society -- and civil liberties -- than anything else in the past 30 years. It has given jet fuel to the expansion of the underworld, corrupted the "overworld" beyond all reckoning, aided and exacerbated the rise of authoritarian regimes in what were once considered democracies across the world, and generally added immeasurably to the burden of human suffering, in every corner of the globe, for decade after decade.

Yet, because it serves the interests of the powerful few so superbly, there is almost no hope that this "war" will ever end -- even though some, or many, of those who once served and feasted in the gilded circles of the elite now publicly acknowledge that this relentless onslaught on liberty and reason will, in the end, devour the goose that gave them so many golden eggs.

Two recent articles address this issue. First, Peter Wilby in the Guardian; and this news piece in The Independent.

War Against Humanity, Part 2
Of course, the "Drug Wars" are only part of a much larger campaign to enclose the human community in a super-techno, ultra-modern feudal regime of servitude and dependence on the high and mighty. For some searing explications of how this pernicious dynamic operates, see this piece by Johan Hari in the Independent; and the always excellent (and harrowing) Michael Hudson in CounterPunch.

War Without End, Amen
As usual, wise man William Pfaff has much to say about the unbearable burdens of empire, in this piece on Truthout: Budget Problems, America? Try Ending Your Many Wars.

More on empire: This is what an imperial state looks like in action: not just criminalizing free speech, but putting it under a death sentence.

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Borderline Case: Some Real News Beyond the "Reset" Rhetoric

Written by Chris Floyd 26 May 2011 9259 Hits

In the last few days, Barack Obama has delivered two “major,” “landmark,” even “historic” speeches, which apparently have “reset” American policy in the Middle East, reaffirmed the overwhelming importance of “the West” (i.e., Britain and America) to the proper functioning of the world, and, we are told, “squarely” put the United States on the side of the dissidents and rebels of the Arab Spring.  All of these claims, put forth in reams of earnest analysis and paeans of praise, call to mind the immortal words of Brick Pollitt: “Wouldn’t that be funny if that was true?”

Of course, none of it is true. Obama’s soaring rhetoric about America changing its policy of supporting dictators in favour of boosting democracy in the Middle East could have been taken word for word from several major landmark historic speeches that George W. Bush made on the same subject. But these words – the ones Bush used to mouth and the one mouthed by Obama these days – are always belied by the facts on the ground.

For example, in his afflated rhetoric to the UK parliament, Obama piously declared that “democracies are our best allies.” But in fact, on the ground, America’s best ally in the Middle East, outside of Israel, is Saudi Arabia – the most repressive, extremist regime on the face of the earth, with the possible exceptions of North Korea and Burma. And while Obama waxed lyrical about “the West’s” great moral beaconry and devotion to peace, NATO forces were pounding Tripoli with Western bombs, and planning to send Apache attack helicopters (whose very name evokes stirring echoes of the West’s pious history and its attitude toward ‘recalcitrant’ native tribes like the heathen redskins out West and those worthless sandgrubbers in Libya) to take part in a civil war between two armed factions.

But really, it is pointless to parse these things, or expend any mental energy on them at all, beyond that needed to note the murderous mendacity of these grand occasions with their endlessly rehashed bromides. There is no “news” in Obama’s speeches, nothing that will materially affect any of the complex processes now playing out in the Arab world (aside, of course, from his earnest pledge to continue killing people in Libya in order to save people in Libya from, er, being killed). The phrase “hot air” falls cosmically short of capturing the vacuous insubstantiality of these weighty addresses.

However, there was some real news in the Middle East this week, a development that will actually have a far greater impact on the labyrinthine power plays in the Middle East than any rhetorical “reset” in Washington. The Egyptian government announced that it is lifting the hideous blockade of Gaza imposed by the Mubarak regime in collaboration with Israel – a move which turned Gaza into a Warsaw Ghetto writ large, the “world’s largest open-air prison,” and subjected multitudes of innocent people to horrible suffering, grinding poverty, declining health, hopelessness, despair and rage. All of this was imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza for their heinous crime of ... voting for the wrong party in a free, fair, open democratic election. So much for the great Western commitment to “democracy” limned so nimbly by Obama this week.

Of course, anyone with the slightest acquaintance of history (which, of course, leaves out 97 percent of the Anglo-American chattering classes) knows that the United States has always been firmly and forthrightly committed to democracy for all god’s chillums all over the world – as long as they vote for the leaders that Washington wants.

In any case, the move by Egypt to open its border should have a genuinely profound effect on the region, in all kinds of ways. Most importantly, of course, it means that the old, the sick, the vulnerable and the young in Gaza will have a chance to have a little more food, a little more health care, a little more hope that their life will not always be a grinding hell of deprivation and enclosure.

UPDATE: As this post was being written, the newswires began crackling with reports that a major war criminal – a psychopathic thug said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing – had been apprehended. Naturally, I expected to see George Bush or David Petraeus or Stanley McChrystal or Don Rumsfeld or Nouri al-Maliki being perp-walked to a paddy wagon for their roles in the furious campaign of ethnic cleansing that characterized the murderous “surge” in Iraq. (Yes, the same campaign that Peace Laureate Barack Obama once called “an extraordinary achievement.”) But no, it was old Ratko Mladic, an egregious beserker from the Bosnian wars. Mladic was evidently given up by his long-time protectors in order to facilitate Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.

Commentators are already rushing to join the arrest with the killing of Osama bin Laden as proof that the psychopathic bad guys on the international scene always get caught in the end. And so they do – unless of course they have done their killing, their ethnic cleansing, their drone bombing, their night raiding, their kidnapping, their torturing, and their gulaging for the right side.

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A Brief Primer on the Recent Supreme Court Decision in Kentucky v. King

Written by Chris Floyd 21 May 2011 8258 Hits

Can cops now invade your home without a warrant anytime they feel like it?

Sure they can.

Doesn't this completely and literally eviscerate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and specifically requires the use of a warrant?

Sure it does.

So, was there really any point in having an American Revolution, if we have ended up with a tyranny far more implacable, intrusive, violent and extremist than anything in the wildest dreams of the most retrograde royalist serving King George III?

Reckon not.

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Some Direction Home: Down the Old Plank Road With Dylan

Written by Chris Floyd 23 May 2011 10589 Hits

In honor of Bob Dylan's 70th birthday, here's a reprise of a piece I wrote back when he was just a whippersnapper of 63:

There's a legend in my family that we are kin to Uncle Dave Macon. We are for certain distant cousins to the Macons of Wilson County – and Uncle Dave lived in the next county over. My parents met him once, driving to his farm one afternoon when they were teenagers, not yet married. This was not too long before his death.

They found him sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. He greeted the young strangers like the kinfolk one of them might well have been, invited them into the house, showed them his memorabilia, and gave my mother – one of "them pretty girls from Tennessee" he sang about so often – a small, delicate glass deer as a memento of the visit. Back out on the porch, he picked up his banjo and did a couple of comic numbers from the rocking chair, feet keeping time on the wooden boards. There looked to be some whisky in his friendly manner, they said; perhaps a noonday dram before they had arrived.

It was all over soon enough, but a photograph survives to record the event, a black-and-white print taken with my mother's camera. Uncle Dave is in the rocking chair, legs crossed, battered hat perched on his head, banjo in his lap. His face is puffy, pitted, cadaverous; the fire that had stoked him since his hot young days – in the still-churning wake of the Civil War – is finally going out. A dying man, from a dying world.

But he played for the young folks anyway, out of courtesy, for the hell of it, conjuring up another reality out of rhythm, strings and joyful noise, then letting it dissolve into the air. "Won't get drunk no more, won't get drunk no more, won't get drunk no more, way down the old plank road…"


Despite the reputed kinship and this ancestral encounter, the first Uncle Dave Macon song I ever actually heard was one recorded by Bob Dylan: "Sarah Jane." This was on the "revenge" album of out-takes and studio warm-ups that Columbia Records put out after Dylan temporarily left the fold in the early Seventies. When I first heard the song, I thought Dylan had written it himself; certainly the line, "I got a wife and five little children," sung with such full-throated exuberance, seemed like straight autobiography. I didn't realize then the kind of alchemy Dylan could work on other people's songs, how he could make them his own, right down to the marrow.

Like most people who get into Dylan, at first I was dazzled by the originality of his vision, his words, the brilliant fragments of his own kaleidoscopic personality as they were lit up in turn by each new style, each different take or tonal mood. His work seemed a perfect embodiment of the Romantic ideal: art as the vibrant expression of the self – defiant, heroic, fiercely personal. But while that stance is as valid as most of the other illusions that sustain us, it only takes you so far. What I've come to realize over the years is that Dylan's music is not primarily about expressing
yourself – it's about losing yourself, escaping the self and all its confusions, corruptions, pettiness and decay. It's about getting to some place far beyond the self, "where nature neither honors nor forgives." Dylan gives himself up to the song, and to the deeper reality it creates in the few charged moments of its existence. We can step through the door he opens to that far place and see what happens.

Dylan's words – original, striking, piercing, apt – are marvelous, of course. Like Shakespeare's, they knit themselves into your consciousness, become part of the way you see and speak the world. But the true alchemy lies in the performance. The phrasing is more important than the phrases, no matter who happened to write them. The grain in his voice – the jagged edge that catches and tears at the weave of life as it flies past – is what moves us through that open door. Along with the music, obviously: the mathematical and emotional interplay among the musicians, shaped by Dylan's guiding will. When it all works, and it usually does, it's artistry of the highest order. As they say back home, you can't beat it with a stick.


You can follow Dylan through many doors, into many realms: the disordered sensuality of Symbolist poetry, the high bohemia and low comedy of the Beats and Brecht, the guilt-ridden, God-yearning psalms of King David, the Gospel road of Jesus Christ, the shiv-sharp romance of Bogart and Bacall. There's Emerson in there, too, Keats, Whitman, even Rilke if you look hard enough: fodder for a thousand footnotes, signposts to a hundred sources of further enlightenment.

But if you go far enough with Dylan, he'll always lead you back to the old music. This is the foundation, the deepest roots of his art, of his power. For me, as for so many people, he was the spirit guide to this other world, this vanished heritage. He has somehow – well, not just "somehow," but through hard work and endless absorption – managed to keep the tradition alive. Not as a museum piece, not like a zoo animal, but as a free, thriving, unpredictable beast, still on the prowl, still extending its range.

Early on, Dylan realized that the essence of the old music was not to be found in the particular styles of picking and singing rigorously classified by the ethnographers and carefully preserved by purists. Traditional music was idiosyncratic, created by thousands of unique individuals working their personal artistry on whatever musical materials came to hand, in cotton fields, coal mines, granges, churches, factories, ports, city streets and country roads. Who else in the world ever sounded like Roscoe Holcomb or Charley Patton? Their art was as distinctive as that of Beethoven and Chopin, who also drew on traditional elements to make their music.

No, what the old music held in common, what made it penetrating and great, was not some mythological collective origin or expression of sociocultural mores; it was a shared DNA of fundamental themes, fundamental truths – the double helix of joy and mortality, threaded like twine, tangled like snakes, inextricable, irresolvable. It was this genetic code that Dylan used to grow his own art, in its own unique forms.

Joy and mortality: the psychic pain of being alive, your mind and senses flooded with exquisite wonders, miraculous comprehensions – and the simultaneous knowledge of death, the relentless push of time, the fleeting nature of every single experience, every situation, every moment, dying even as it rises. There's pain waiting somewhere – from within or without – in every joy, a canker in every rose we pluck from the ground of being.

This awareness shadows the old music – deepens it, gives it the bite of eternal truth. It's there even in the joyful noise of Uncle Dave Macon, so happy that he whoops out "Kill yourself!" in manic glee as he gallops down the old plank road. Yet in the songs that deal directly with this shadow, such as the blues, full of hard knowledge, hard pain, the very act of singing that pain gives rise to a subtle joy, and a kind of solace. The old songs, and the ones Dylan has built upon them, create another reality, an impossible reconciliation, where time stands still, life and death embrace, decay is banished, and all our pettiness, our evil urges, our confusions are arrested and transcended. Until, of course, the song itself, being mortal, fades away as the music ends.


Dylan's music can provide a doorway out of yourself – "a pathway that leads up to the stars" – but it can also help bring you back to yourself, to what you should be doing with your life: attending to these eternal truths, trying to take that code and carry it forward, pass it along, using whatever materials – musical or otherwise – that your life and history and inclinations have given you. In this case, Dylan brought me back to my own heritage; it was decades after hearing his "Sarah Jane" that I first mentioned Uncle Dave Macon to my father and heard the story of that long-ago visit, and was given the photograph to keep, and pass on.

Perhaps the kind of transcendence I've talked about here only works if you're a certain kind of person, with your nerves aligned in a certain way, attuned to a certain signal. Perhaps it's all a happenstance of biochemistry. I don't know. In a world where every understanding, no matter how profound, is provisional, temporary, clouded and corrupted, I wouldn't make universal claims for any particular path. I do think that the experience of the heightened reality offered by Dylan's music – and by all the places he leads us to – holds out the promise of a rough-hewn wisdom, something that can make us feel more alive while we're living, while our brief moment is passing.

Anyway, it works for me.


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Quick Takes: Slaughter, Suppression and Fighting for the Light

Written by Chris Floyd 17 May 2011 7765 Hits

1. Aiding Enlightenment
Arthur Silber, one of the great voices of enlightenment in our benighted age, is in the direst of straits, suffering through one of the worst bouts of the chronic ill health that has afflicted him for years. He has not been able to write for many weeks, but has now surfaced, very briefly, to give us the good news that he is still alive, and the bad news that he is suffering mightily, and that one of his beloved companions also needs medical care.

If you have any money to spare, please consider making a contribution to Silber's website; it is his only means of support, and of course, donations fall when he is not able to write. The tragedy of seeing such a mind, such a spirt, forced to such perilous margins is painful indeed. Please help if you are able.

2. Barack Bull Connor Obama: Killing the Dream of Dr. King
Professor As'ad AbuKhalil points us to this telling comment in The Economist, on the Israeli massacre of unarmed citizens on its borders this week. An excerpt:

FOR many years now, we've heard American commentators bemoan the violence of the Palestinian national movement. If only Palestinians had learned the lessons of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we hear, they'd have had their state long ago. Surely no Israeli government would have violently suppressed a non-violent Palestinian movement of national liberation seeking only the universally recognised right of self-determination. ...

In any case, if you're among those who have made the argument that Israelis would give Palestinians a state if only the Palestinians would learn to employ Ghandhian tactics of non-violent protest, it appears your moment of truth has arrived. As my colleague writes, what happened on Nakba Day was Israel's "nightmare scenario: masses of Palestinians marching, unarmed, towards the borders of the Jewish state, demanding the redress of their decades-old national grievance." ...

So now we have an opportunity to see how Americans will react. We've asked the Palestinians to lay down their arms. We've told them their lack of a state is their own fault; if only they would embrace non-violence, a reasonable and unprejudiced world would see the merit of their claims. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of them did just that, and it seems likely to continue. If crowds of tens of thousands of non-violent Palestinian protestors continue to march, and if Israel continues to shoot at them, what will we do? Will we make good on our rhetoric, and press Israel to give them their state? Or will it turn out that our paeans to non-violence were just cynical tactics in an amoral international power contest staged by militaristic Israeli and American right-wing groups whose elective affinities lead them to shape a common narrative of the alien Arab/Muslim threat? Will we even bother to acknowledge that the Palestinians are protesting non-violently? Or will we soldier on with the same empty decades-old rhetoric, now drained of any truth or meaning, because it protects established relationships of power? What will it take to make Americans recognise that the real Martin Luther King-style non-violent Palestinian protestors have arrived, and that Israeli soldiers are shooting them with real bullets?

Unfortunately, I think we all know "how Americans will react." We have already seen how the Progressive Peace Laureate in the White House has responded, sending out his mouthpiece to praise the Israelis for their "restraint" in slaughtering only a few unarmed people, and not the multitudes they could have killed with their super-cool, American-supplied weaponry.

Then again, we will probably never know how Americans would react to the reality of a non-violent Palestinian resistance movement -- because Americans are not going to be told about it in the first place. As AbuKhalil notes in another post, on the New York Times' coverage of the Sunday shootings:

" Israel’s borders erupted in deadly clashes on Sunday as thousands of Palestinians — marching from Syria, Lebanon, Gazaand the West Bank — confronted Israeli troops to mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation."  Note the language.  First these are "clashes" (even when Arab protesters are armed, as in Libya, the Times does not refer to repression by regime as "clashes"), and then it talks about the victims "confronting" Israeli troops.  How did they "confront" them?  By receiving their bullets in their chests?

The hideous irony of a black president praising the slaughter of people following Martin Luther King's example is beyond all comment. And beneath contempt.

3. No Moose is Good Moose
Speaking of the Peace Laureate, here's what you get under a really cool, open, young, progressive, liberal Democratic administration: The Secret Sharer, Jane Mayer's detailed look in the New Yorker at Obama's relentless and ruthless war on those who tell the truth about government corruption and atrocity. Read the whole thing.

I guess it's OK to follow faithfully -- and extend and strengthen -- the very worst policies of George W. Bush ... as long as you don't wear funny glasses and talk about moose, or have a bad comb-over or something. That seems to be the solid progressive consensus in American politics today.

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"Tear Out My Eyes": New Murder is Imperial Business as Usual

Written by Chris Floyd 12 May 2011 9897 Hits

The Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas died late last month at the age of 93, having survived persecution and exile at the hands of American client-tyrant Augusto Pinochet. His obituary in the Guardian quoted these apt Rojas lines:

I tear out the visions
I tear out my eyes every day
I will not and cannot
see men die each day
I prefer to be of stone
to be in darkness
than to tolerate the disgust
of going soft inside
of smiling right and left
and getting on with business

Unfortunately, America's bipartisan imperium is still "getting on with business" in Latin America in much the same manner as in Pinochet's day. And yes, this includes the progressive Nobel Peace Laureate (and rootin' tootin' hit man) in the White House.

One of President Barack Obama's most signal achievements in inter-American relations has been his countenancing of a brutal coup in Honduras and his avid embrace of the repressive regime produced by the elitist overthrow of the democratically elected government. As we noted here last year:

Since the installation of these throwbacks to the corrupt and brutal 'banana republics' of yore, Obama's secretary of state, the "progressive" Hillary Clinton, has spent a good deal of time and effort trying to coerce Honduras' outraged neighbors in Latin America to "welcome" the thug-clique, now led by Porfirio Lobo, back into the "community of nations." Let bygones be bygones, Clinton says, as Lobo's regime murders journalists (nine so far this year), political opponents and carries on the wholesale trashing of Honduran independence (such as sacking four Supreme Court justices who opposed the gutting of liberties and the overthrow of constitutional order). After all, isn't that Obama's own philosophy: always "look forward," forget the crimes of the past? Every day is a new day, a clean slate, a chance for a new beginning -- indeed, for "hope and change."

In other words: let the dead bury the dead -- and the rich and powerful reap their rewards.

And even as Obama basks in the atavistic glow of the Warrior Prince (you would think he'd killed bin Laden in single combat on the field of battle instead of ordering 80 Navy Seals to storm a house filled with women and children and shoot an unarmed man), his favored elites in Honduras continue to hunt down and kill those who seek to shine the smallest light on their corrupt, repressive rule. As the Washington Post reported last week:

Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a journalist outside his home in a city in northern Honduras, officials said Wednesday. Francisco Medina, a 35-year-old television reporter, was ambushed Tuesday night in the city of Morazan, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Honduras’ capital, said Santos Galvez, a member of Honduras’ College of Journalists press group .....

In his reporting, Medina was critical of the Honduran national police and of private security firms contracted by ranchers in the area, where drug traffickers operate. Medina became the 11th journalist to be killed in the past 18 months in Honduras. Two of these murders have been solved.

A committee of missing persons in Honduras said Medina was followed by two men on a motorcycle after his evening show. They shot him three times in the back and once in his arm as he was about to enter his home.

Relatives of Medina called an ambulance, which took him to a hospital. He later died. Medina’s brother, Carlos Medina, said police officers refused to escort the journalist in the ambulance.

This is a precise echo of the case noted here last year:

[From John Perry at the London Review of Books]: On the night of 14 June, Luis Arturo Mondragón was sitting with his son on the pavement outside his house in the city of El Paraíso in western Honduras. He had often criticised local politicians on his weekly radio programme, the latest edition of which had just been broadcast. He had received several death threats, but disregarded them. At 10 p.m. a car drew up and the driver fired four bullets, killing him instantly. Mondragón was the ninth journalist to be murdered so far this year. Honduras is now officially the most dangerous country in the world in which to work for the press.

The overthrow of President Zelaya last year was only the second military coup in Latin America since the end of the Cold War. The first, a US-backed attempt to overthrow Chávez in Venezuela in 2002, was a failure. The coup in Tegucigalpa shouldn’t have succeeded either: Obama had promised a new approach to US policy in the region, and there was strong popular resistance to the coup in Honduras itself. And yet, a year on, the coup’s plotters have got practically everything they wanted. ...

Perry notes that Roland Valenzuela, a former minister in Zelaya’s government, claimed in an interview that he had papers which named several American-connected business figures behind the coup plot, including "former members of the army death squad known as Battalion 316." Perry also notes that "in a separate development, it has become known that the plane which flew Zelaya out of the country first called at the US airforce base Palmerola."

And what has been the upshot of these shocking charges?

Not surprisingly, the exiled Zelaya has claimed that all this points to the prior knowledge and probable involvement of the US government in the coup. The State Department describes his allegation as ‘ridiculous’. Unfortunately, Valenzuela is unable to elaborate as, shortly before the recorded interview was broadcast, he was shot.

As we noted here in yet another piece on the American-backed "regime change" in Honduras:

Barack Obama's famed "continuity" with his predecessors goes far beyond his avid, almost erotic embrace of George W. Bush's Terror War atrocities (foreign and domestic). In Latin America, it goes back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when American-backed, American-trained death squads and military juntas slaughtered thousands of people and stripped their people to the bone with the scorched-earth economics of oligarchy. (An ancient, barbaric system now being energetically imposed throughout the "developed" world, under the cover of "deficit reduction.") But of course, Reagan himself was standing on the shoulders of giants when it came to his Latin America policies, simply soldiering on in the proud tradition of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, James K. Polk and other paragons now chiseled in history's alabaster.

And so the beat goes on, for the Warrior Prince, and his progressive base, and the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, all cozy together, all in the same boat, "smiling right and left, and getting on with business" -- the business of death and domination.

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